Sunday, December 24, 8:00pm
“When are you going to move into his office?” Midget asked.
“No time soon,” Frio responded. “In fact I probably won’t unless the county commissioners instruct me to.”
“I’m not like Seth. I don’t like calling attention to myself. I don’t like acting important. I don’t like getting things done by dominating other people. I want to be recognized by the things I achieve and earn through hard work and for accomplishing the things I was hired to do.”
Midget stared out the passenger window of the Navigator as they drove through the subdivision. “Well I have to admit, none of that sounds like Seth Bryan. He did solve a lot of crimes, though.”
She sighed. “Yeah. . . . How do you expect Moody to react when we arrest her?”
The deputy shrugged. “She’s been arrested before. She’s so smart. Surely she knows we’re coming. And why.”
Frio shook her head. “I’ve known Moody as long as she’s lived in Rubicon Ranch. From the beginning I had her pegged as a harmless, well-meaning person who accidentally killed a child and who had the misfortune of having the world’s weirdest father.” She slowed as they turned through the winding streets. “But she began to change. Starting when the little girl, Riley, was killed. Slowly at first, but lately more and more. It’s almost as if she turned completely into a Sinclair.”
“I hope she doesn’t clam up on us. A lot of things have gone down and I think she can explain a lot of them.”
“Speaking of which, I’d like to clean house here in Rubicon. There are some issues that Seth would have just ignored or used to his advantage. I want to clean them up.”
“Well, for starters, we’ve got to get rid of that madam and her escort service.”
“You mean Zsa Zsa?”
“Zazzi. She and her high class hookers have to go.”
“You want her arrested?”
She stared ahead for a moment before answering. “No. For several reasons. First, all it takes from us is a threat and she’ll move on. She won’t risk allowing her client list to fall into our hands, where it would probably become public. And second, the county commissioners are not going to want the salacious publicity that would come with her arrest. We’ve been in the news way too much already.”
“There is somebody you can arrest: the son of that Victoria Rocha.”
“On what charges?”
“Just domestic abuse at first. I suspect he’s been slapping his mother around.” She glanced at him. “But the real crime I suspect him of is murder. The fingerprints on the bat used to kill Clark Bailey are a perfect match for the prints we lifted off the fender of the fire truck that guy was leaning on while he watched them fight the fire the other night.”
Midget nodded. “That doesn’t surprise me. He does seem kind of suspicious to me.”
“His mom will try to rescue him. That will give me the chance to worm the whole story out of her—what brought them here, what kind of legal problems he’s had. We need to find out everything we can and put him away.”
“All right. You want to do anything with that Celeste lady?”
“Well I definitely think she needs to be on some of those drugs that prevent hallucination. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure she’s our little firebug who set the blaze.”
“Why do you say that? Why would she do it?”
Frio turned into the driveway of the Sinclair house. “Celeste stood right beside me as the fire department fought the fire. I never smelled anyone before who used lighter fluid for perfume and I could sure smell it on her. I’m sure she had some reason—even if it was to make her look like a real clairvoyant.” She turned off the engine and opened the door, but sat with her hands on the steering wheel. “Bring her in and I’ll threaten her. That should be all it takes to get her to own up to what she’s done, and share what she knows. I mean what she really knows, not what delusional fantasies she imagines.”
They closed the doors of the SUV and walked silently to the front door.
“You think Moody’s going to give us any trouble?” Midget asked.
“Trouble? She might get a little snarky. But nothing more than a little lip.” Frio chuckled. “You think she’s really capable of doing anything to us?”
They stood on the porch, side-by-side, and before Frio could ring the bell, Midget said, “Moody isn’t here.”
“She’s gone, Lieutenant.”
“. . . How do you know that?”
“Listen. No dog. That Satan dog is always at the door when someone comes up, growling or barking even before you can knock. I don’t hear him. Do you?”
Slowly Frio opened the front door and pushed it ajar. “Moody?” she called. “Moody Sinclair. . . . It’s Frio and Midget. We’re coming in.”
When there was no response, she opened the door and gently slid her Glock .9 out of its holster. She nodded to Midget, who pulled his weapon as well. They proceeded quietly, deliberately through the entry—glancing up the stairs—into the interior of the dwelling.
Frio stopped in the empty living room, gazing at the floor and the furniture. She waited for Midget to emerge from the dining room and nodded to a dark stain smeared on the hardwood, as if something had been dripping as it was dragged toward the back of the house.
“That’s blood,” Midget whispered.
Frio nodded. “Whose? Is Moody our next victim?” Her voice was scarcely audible.
As they walked slowly toward the bedroom hallway, the telephone in the living room startled them. In the silence, its ring seemed amazingly loud. Frio shook her head. As the phone rang, they continued into the hallway, weapons extended before them, their eyes moving from the open doorways to the smeared bloodstain on the floor. They had made to the bathroom and cleared it when the answering machine clicked on and they heard Moody’s terse recording:
“No one is here to answer your call. Leave a message when you hear the tone.”
Then came the machine’s long beep, a moment of silence and a voice both of them recognized.
“Frio. Midget. This is Moody Sinclair. . . . Put away your guns and pick up the phone.”
They stood in the hall, staring at one another.
“Just stay alert,” Frio said quietly. She holstered her Glock and walked back into the living room.
Moody’s voice sprang from the answering machine again. “Rosaria. The phone can’t hurt you, dear. Just pick it up. And tell Midget to relax.”
Frio pressed the speakerphone button. “Moody?”
A laugh emanated from the other end of the line. “That’s clever, Lieutenant. Put me on speaker so you both can hear and the machine keeps recording. Well record all you want. And, what the hell, ask whatever you want.”
Midget emerged from the hallway. The two officers gazed around themselves.
“How did you know we were here, walking through the house?”
Moody laughed again. “Turn around and look at the front door. See the hutch? There’s a little surveillance camera there that’s linked to the computer in Morris’ old study. I’ve been watching you ever since you walked through the front door. You’re in good company. My father used that camera to peep at some of the most famous people in Hollywood.”
Midget walked to the entry and snatched up the little tube.
“Oh,” came the distant voice, “are you two camera shy now?
“Moody, where are you?”
“That’s the one question I’m not going to answer.”
“You know why we’re here?”
“Okay, why are we here?”
“You think I murdered Nancy.”
“Yep.” There was a faint note of pride in her voice.
“You mean why would I want to kill a former call girl, phony businesswoman, snooty bitch?”
Frio shrugged. “Rubicon is full of reprehensible citizens. What made you decide to kill her?”
“She was trying to blackmail me.”
“. . . For?”
“She caught me carrying pieces of Morris out into the desert and planting them. She figured I would inherit all his money and I should be willing to share it with her if she kept her mouth shut.”
Frio sighed. “So you killed Nancy and then you ran over her and then you pulled her body up and stuck it under Santa Claus’ motorcycle in Lydia’s yard.”
“I didn’t run over her. That little sneak Celeste did that.”
“. . . She was in it with you?”
“No. Only an idiot would trust Celeste. I put Nancy’s body in the street where it would be really difficult for any driver to see. Then I sat on my front porch drinking eggnog. Good rum, by the way. My plan was to see how many cars would hit her and then just drive away. It was sort of an experiment to confirm what I’ve come to know is true about the wretchedness of the human soul.
“What I didn’t expect was Celeste being the first one to drive over the body. For a psychic, she sure didn’t see that coming. Then something strange—well, even stranger—happened: that Lydia chick heard Celeste run over Nancy’s body. She came charging out of the house to see what had happened. For whatever reason, she dragged the body up onto yard and then went back inside. I suspect she wanted the body near her house so she’d see her lover boy when he showed up. I should’ve done something evil to her for spoiling my fun. I guess Nic beat me to it.”
“All right.” Frio’s voice was grim. “What do you know about your neighbors?”
The strange, evil chuckle reminded the officers of Morris Sinclair. “We’re all neighbors, aren’t we, Rosaria? Do you mean Clark Bailey? His stepson—that creepy bastard who’s been lurking around here—he killed him. I saw it. Bailey deserved it. He beat his wife.”
“. . . How do you know that kid was Bailey’s stepson?”
Moody laughed again. “’Cause that kid—that slime—was my nephew.”
“What do you mean he was your nephew?”
“Because the dumb shit decided he was going to cash in on Morris’s inheritance.”
“. . . And?”
“And I demonstrated my superior knowledge of the human anatomy with a little knife I’ve always carried with me for self-defense.”
“So that’s the blood stain that’s smeared from the living room to the back of the house.”
“Indeed it is.”
Frio’s head sank. “Well I suppose there is no need in your concealing where the body is since you’ve already told us you killed him. Where is he?”
“You know that Persian rug Morris was so fond of? I always hated that rug. I dragged it out to the no man’s land next to the house and hid it beneath some creosote bushes. You’ll find the bodies wrapped in it.”
“Bodies?” Her voice rose.
“Mother and son.”
“You killed Victoria?”
“No. Actually I didn’t. She showed up at my house right after I did her son. I think she was already having a heart attack. When I showed her the body, she dropped dead on the spot. It was amazing. I never saw anything like it.”
“Moody . . . why would you confess all this and then try to get away?”
“Ha. I’m giving you what I never got at any point in my life, Rosaria. I’m giving you and Midget and all the worthy people of Rubicon Ranch some closure. Now you know where the bodies are. The murders have been solved. The dying is done. Rubicon Ranch is rid of the killers and the con artists and the lecherous sheriff. Oh. And actually . . . I have gotten away.”
“Come back, Moody. Turn yourself in. On some level you have to know that you need help. After all you went through with your dad, with the deaths around here, with the blackmail—surely the justice system will find some grounds for treatment and for leniency.”
“. . . Really, Frio? Were you under the impression that I can’t afford to pay for a good counselor where I’m going?” She chuckled, the sound of her voice growing slightly more distant. “Merry Christmas, you two. And a peaceful New Year for Rubicon Ranch.”